Triple 9 (2016)

Released: February 26, 2016. Directed by: John Hillcoat. Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie. Runtime: 1hr 55 min.

In John Hillcoat’s latest film Triple 9, he brings us into the world of criminals and corrupt cops being blackmailed by the Russia mafia in Atlanta, Georgia, a location that is never exactly clear.

After the criminal crew rob a bank to get to a safety deposit box and Irina (Kate Winslet) doesn’t pay up, the rag tag group of criminals is forced to do another job so a Russian mafia boss can be released from prison.

To perform the tricky job, they have to kill a cop across town to get the police force on the other side of town.

The funny thing about Triple 9 is that the final result is incredibly “meh” but the opening 20 minutes is seriously really awesome. Heist films are really one of my favourite sub-genres. I love the intensity of them.

And Triple 9 had a really great opening, especially the getaway. When they bring out the red smoke with their red clothing and masks looking all like Deadpool; the look of it is super intriguing.

I thought when we learned what they stole – just information from a safety deposit box – wasn’t that high-stakes. But when we learn that the Russian mafia seriously mean hardball, the stakes get higher.

But since the crew are essentially being forced into these jobs, and based on the contents they’re stealing, it doesn’t feel like an honest heist film. It feels like that took a backseat where just general gangs, crime on the streets and corruption drive the car.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., and Anthony Mackie in Triple 9. So. Damn. Dark. (Source)

There’s one totally enthralling gang bust scene in the film and that, and the beginning, are the high points. Otherwise, it feels super mediocre. There is a lot of carnage and violence that makes it look ultra-stylized but the writer, Matt Cook, who is writing his first feature film screenplay, seems to be looking for a point throughout.

He never seems to be able to find strong pacing in the feature and it’s a bit confusing at times. The characters also aren’t interesting enough to engage us in the end. The cast is super impressive, however. Chiwetel Ejiofor heads the criminal team as Michael Atwood, a career criminal and family man.

Norman Reedus (Darryl from The Walking Dead) and Aaron Paul portray brothers Russell and Gabe Welch, respectively, and we don’t get much time to know Russell and Gabe is an annoying, rattled and paranoid druggie. The emotional range isn’t much different than how he portrayed Jesse on Breaking Bad.

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Norman Reedus in Triple 9Source

Clifton Collins Jr. and Anthony Mackie round out the corrupt cops as Franco Rodriguez and Marcus Belmont, respectively. Casey Affleck is a focal point of the film as Casey Allen, a new-to-the-streets cop and Belmont’s new partner.

Kate Winslet’s Irena is super uninteresting and just shows that she should never don a Russian accent ever, ever again. The accent is awfully inconsistent and she just phones everything in. Woody Harrelson is the lead sergeant Jeffrey Allen on the bank robbers case, sporting false teeth – but the drunkard adds a cool investigative aspect to the film. All of the characters, though, are restricted to very basic profiles.

It’s a well-acted saga of police corruption and blackmail, and the violence is well done.  But as far as technical aspects go, the film looks terrible. It’s super murky and downright hard to look at. Even in pure daylight – it’s far too dark.

When they’re inside, it looks like the budget couldn’t afford electricity of any kind. When you can’t see anything, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the story. This contributing element makes it more average.

Score: 50/100

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Need for Speed (2014)

Need for SpeedReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Scott Waugh. Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots. Runtime: 132 min.

Need for Speed (based on the popular gaming franchise) is about as conventional as these crime actioners come. Since the game franchise of the same name doesn’t really have a storyline, and is just racing during dynamic gameplay – the writers come up with a mediocre story for it. It isn’t anything special, written by first-time writer George Gatins. His brother John Gatins (Coach CarterFlight) worked on the story, but it’s a shame he isn’t the screenwriter. His resumé shows he’s stronger.

The film follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a street racer and mechanic who spends two years in prison for GTA and manslaughter, the latter is a crime of which he is innocent. Left to take the blame by wealthy business associate Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper in an underwhelming turn), Tobey jumps parole and travels to California in order to take part in a legendary underground race called the De Leon, with clearing his name and revenge in mind.

Being the slime Dino is, he places a bounty on Marshall’s head to prevent him from taking part in the race. As you can tell, he doesn’t play fair. Why would anyone want to be in business with him in the first place? At the beginning of the movie, he brings a business opportunity to Tobey and co., that, if they can refurbish a Ford Mustang largely from scratch, they’ll get 25% of the $2+ million pay day. Marshall’s motivations for this business endeavour is to save his late father’s auto repairs shop. At least the main character’s motivations are clear and well-established.

Sometimes we don’t get that privilege from other action movies, so at least we get a likable protagonist in Tobey. Also on his list of motivations are vengeance for the death of his friend, and beating Dino on the race track in the De Leon. It looks like all conflicts are solved on the race track, at least that’s what these racing flicks want us to think. (I’ll need my driver’s license to ever solve conflicts, and until then, I’ll always lose!) I think Tobey is likable because he cares about others and he puts them ahead of himself. Aaron Paul portrays him with subtle fierceness and kindness shown towards his co-star. He’s a natural actor and an appealing lead.

Joining him on the trek is Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), the assistant of the man who bought the Ford Mustang for $2.7 million dollars two years ago. She’s going along on the trek because her boss doesn’t want an ex-con in the car on his own, yet he will lend the expensive car to him in the first place. It must have been in the contract that if the seller ever needs to use the car because he just really needs it, the buyer must lend that party the car, as long as the assistant can tag along. Yeah, makes sense…

Julia’s phobias allow Tobey to be his comforting self. She’s not always a damsel as she holds her own in this actioner by driving the car away from antagonists in a scene or two. She’s also a character that shows women can know some things about cars. Poots is a charming actress, so the chemistry between her and Paul is strong, even though their characters are practically strangers.

This is mostly a road trip movie where cops chase ’em (enabling a police chase aspect from Hot Pursuit to present itself) and they run into many obstacles along the way, like people trying to collect the bounty. At least they’re usually in a fast car. There is a cool sequence where they gas up without stopping. They also defy gravity along the way, maybe not as much as Fast & Furious 6, but there’s one scene where you’re just going to question the plausibility of it. At least it looks cool. Jack of all trades director Scott Waugh (director of Act of Valor, he’s much more experienced in stunt-work, with 41 credits to his name) directs the races well. The visuals of the film are pretty good; there’s a limited amount of CGI used, so that’s nice. The fact that there’s not a lot of CGI makes it more apparent that the 3-D version is just a disposable money grab. Please see this in 2-D, because it’s too dark and sometimes ugly in 3-D.

The film keeps the revenge theme throughout with generic plotting and lots of comic relief (much of which is found in Scott Mescudi’s character), so it’s consistent tonally. Michael Keaton has fun portraying Monarch, the energetic host of the De Leon. The finale is that race with a few distracting aspects but it’s a cool all-or-nothing race for pink slips nonetheless. It takes a while for the film to get to this race. (The film clocks in at 132 minutes; trims on the beginning could cut this down to 120 minutes, because it takes about 25 minutes to actually get into the plot.) The finale’s one of the best parts of the film, so most will think it’s worth the wait, at least those who have a tolerance for mildly fun time-passers.

Score55/100